Awamaki: Women Weaving Their Way Out of Poverty


Rural Peruvian women face a number of extreme challenges you might not expect from living in such a hyper-connected world. Imagine caring for your family in relative isolation – living at extremely high altitudes, which are relatively inaccessible due to lack of roads and transportation, subsisting on what little you can farm from the extremely arid land, and facing numerous cultural and linguistic barriers.

Awamaki is one group that is working to help these women improve upon their quality of life by taking the cultural tradition of weaving and turning it into an enterprise.

What is Awamaki?

Awamaki logoAwamaki is a nonprofit organization that helps rural Peruvian women earn wages for their families, primarily by teaching them how to use a cultural skill as a source of wages. Awamaki was formed in Peru in 2009. It replaced another NGO that had previously been working in the same region but is no longer operating. When that organization closed in 2008, one of its volunteers founded Awamaki to continue the fair trade weaving program that works in the highland communities of the Patacancha Valley.

Who does Awamaki work with?

Weaving

In Peru, one of the dividing lines between those that have and those that do not is strictly geographic, coming in the form of the Andes Mountains. The disparities between those that live in the mountains, or highlands, and those that do not are quite stark. Those that live in the highlands have a life expectancy 20 years fewer than their counterparts in the city. They also earn far less – as much as 30 times less – than urban Peruvians. Highlanders exist in relative isolation, their communities located at elevations in excess of 12,000 feet. The lack of roads makes reaching them a challenge. Consequently there is no electricity or schools, little to no health care and very little trade and supplies. The majority of families that live in the highlands are indigenous, speaking dozens of different dialects specific to their communities. Few of them can read or write.

Poverty is pervasive and persistent, with rates approaching 80%. Rural women are hit the hardest, with 70% of rural, indigenous women being described as “extremely poor.” However, women are often also expected to the sole provider for their families, as their husbands seek out work that takes them away from home for long periods of time, such  as trekking or tending to livestock.

Felicitas Huaman MedinaFelicitas is the youngest member of the Patacancha weaving association. She joined the other weavers in order to help provide for her family and works alongside her mother. Felicitas is an aspiring artist and hopes to attend university to become an art teacher. She is hoping that some of the money she makes weaving will help her with the fees associated with attending college.

Graciela is another young member of the weaving association, though her story is quite different from Felicitas. Graciela has a learning disability, which made going to school difficult for her. However, she is a gifted and talented weaver and credits Awamaki with helping her use that talent to earn an income for her family and her son. Graciela, who is about sixteen years old, has a baby boy and lives with her parents. When she is not weaving, she helps tend to the animals.

How does Awamaki help?

The highland women, who have little access to the outside world, come to market with little idea of what their weaving products might be worth and with no skills to negotiate. They often leave cheated out of a fair price for their weavings. Awamaki helps them develop financial skills through capacity building workshops and training. In addition, Awamaki workshops and field trips help the women develop further techniques in design, dyeing, weaving, and knitting. Awamaki helps provide the weavers with childcare and medical services, so that they have the time to work on their weaving. Awamaki also operates a volunteer run fair trade store in Ollantaytambo where many of the weavers’ products are sewn.

How can you help?

Only in their second year, Awamaki is currently working in the highland communities of Patacancha and Kelkanka. They recently launched a knitting project and a four-month long residency design lab for visiting textile designers.

For more information about Awamaki, visit their website or find them on Facebook. You can help by making a tax-deductible donation or by volunteering. Be prepared to stay for at least a month.

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